The Importance of Learning Good Citizenry

Recent geopolitical events have shocked the world, including in Northern Europe, and those in the quiet little country of Canada, my homeland. Known for its liberal democracy, social medicine, and strong education system (besides the worlds' best hockey players), Canada recently made the news for its large, unruly protests.

Now, protesting is enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (right of assembly) and is not new to the Canadian political landscape. However, what happened in the nation's capital (among other places) and inspired similar protests in other countries, was different due to both the duration and the nature of the protests. Why did things become so impassioned, and eventually result in the arrest of hundreds of people? Why have similar protests against mask mandates, vaccination requirements, and even against democratic elections (see January 6th, 2020 US Capitol Building) arisen? In short, I partly fault schools.

Yes, I am a lifelong educator admonishing the system I helped create or at least perpetuate. Much of what has transpired has been propagated by those who fall mostly into one or more camps: the uneducated, the disconnected, conspiracy theorists, fascists, and those who do not have an understanding of how democracy works. What most of these people have in common is a lack of civic education. This is why during our bi-weekly assemblies, we focus on what it means to be a good citizen, to understand how good societies work, and our individual and collective responsibilities in such societies. 

When Churchill said of civil servants, “No longer civil. No longer servants,” he was criticizing a breakdown of societal expectations and norms. Likewise, TASIS Board member David Hicks, in his respected treatise Norms and Nobility, wrote:

"Education, therefore, must impress on the citizen a lively sense of the responsibilities attending these privileges; his responsibility to the past, his obligation to govern and discipline himself, to contribute in every way he can to the preservation and development of his society’s purpose and sense of values, his duty to love the law and to carry himself before his compatriots in an exemplary manner, and the opportunity to use his leisure for the realization of his marvellous human potentials.”

Like many problems we face, education is the answer. Yes, we need coding and STEM, mathematics and science; but we also need history, geography, art, and civics. If you can comprehend why there are speed limits and seatbelt laws, and a ban on drinking and driving; why freedom of all speech (even speech we don’t like), fair elections, and in a more ordinary context, good manners, are all important in society, then you might have learned this in school.

If you didn´t, then not only did your school not do its job, but it did not prepare you to help create a better world. And trust me, we could use a better world right about now.

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